Part of an illustrious family of theater actors, John Wilkes Booth was already a familiar figure to many Americans before entering the presidential box at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. Booth’s name had been inscribed on the posters. of American theaters decades ago. John Wilkes killed President Abraham Lincoln. A few months earlier, the assassin and his two brothers had appeared on a Broadway stage together in a benefit performance for Julius Caesar to raise funds to erect a statue of William Shakespeare in Central Park in Manhattan.
Thwarted by bad reviews in his desire to live up to his family’s theatrical reputation, the volatile John Wilkes, a staunch Confederate supporter, instead took center stage in an American tragedy. His assassination of Lincoln changed American history and changed the lives and reputations of many of Booth’s relatives – one of whom unknowingly saved the life of a Lincoln and another wrote a secret memoir of his infamous brother.
READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Lincoln’s Assassination
Junius Brutus Booth: his famous actor father
Table of Contents
It wasn’t until after the death of the Patriarch of the Booth family that the irony appeared that he shared a name with the most famous of Julius Caesar’s assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus. Born in London in 1796, Junius was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his age. Boasting a magnificent memory and a mastery of seven languages, the 17-year-old theater prodigy joined a Shakespearean troupe which toured European capitals in 1814 and gained fame three years later playing the title role of Richard III.
In 1821, Booth abandoned his wife and infant son to flee to the United States with his 19-year-old pregnant mistress, Mary Ann Holmes. Although his popularity transcended the Atlantic Ocean, Junius was also plagued by dark thoughts. Following the death of his 10-year-old son, Henry Byron, he attempted suicide by jumping from a ship at sea. Deepening alcoholism interfered with his performances and forced some theater directors to lock him in their locker rooms to make sure he would be present and sober when their curtains were up.
Junius was in such need of care that his son Edwin was forced to leave school at the age of 12 to care for his father and keep him safe on his tour. After a series of Californian performances in 1852, Junius left for home in Maryland while Edwin remained in the west with a traveling theater company. Junius only survived a few weeks without the care of his son. After having his money stolen in Panama, he drank rancid water and died of dysentery on his return trip to Baltimore.
READ MORE: The Last Days of John Wilkes Booth
Mary Ann Holmes Kiosk
Born into a poor London family in 1802, Mary Ann Holmes sold flowers outside the city’s theaters. On October 9, 1820, the woman who would become the mother of John Wilkes Booth sat in the audience as Junius played the title role in King Lear at the Covent Garden Theater. That night, the star-struck Mary Ann met the leading married man, starting a three-decade love affair.
Five months pregnant, the teenager later fled to the United States with Junius without even telling her parents. She gave birth to 10 of the actor’s children and buried four, including three who died in a cholera outbreak in 1833. Although she called herself Mrs. Booth for decades, Mary Ann did not legally marry Junius. that in 1851, after the divorce of his first wife. News of her son’s role in the murder of a US president devastated Mary Ann.
Considered the most accomplished Shakespearean actor of his time, Edwin even eclipsed his father’s fame. Born in 1833, John Wilkes’ brother made his professional stage debut at the age of 15 and entered the title role of Richard III in 1851 when his father was too ill to play. After his father’s death, Edwin gained his own fame on a world tour, and Hamlet became his signature role.
Although ravaged by alcoholism like his father, Edwin had his best year in 1864 managing and directing the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway. He brought in his brother-in-law as a business partner, but didn’t do the same for his brothers, driving a rift with John Wilkes over money, jealousy, and politics. As Edwin supported the Union’s cause during the Civil War and performed for Lincoln on the third anniversary of his inauguration, his brother’s increasingly strident pro-Confederate views caused a rift between the two.
After his brother murdered Lincoln, Edwin walked away from the stage for nearly a year, but found that the affection of the theater audience remained when he returned. In New York City, he built the Booth Theater, which opened in 1869, and founded a private social club, The Players, whose members included Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and General William Tecumseh Sherman.
While John Wilkes took the life of a Lincoln, Edwin might have saved one. In late 1864, he grabbed a 21-year-old man’s collar to prevent it from falling into an open space between a platform and a moving train in Jersey City, New Jersey. The young man he took to safety turned out to be the president’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. In another bizarre coincidence, three floors of the Ford Theater, which had been converted into the War Department offices, collapsed and killed 22 people at the precise time of Edwin’s funeral on June 9, 1893.
READ MORE: Who Got The Award For Capturing John Wilkes Booth?
Booth Junius Brutus, Jr.
The eldest of Junius and Mary Ann’s 10 children, Junius, Jr. was overshadowed by the fame of one younger brother and the infamy of another. Born in 1821 shortly after her parents immigrated to the United States, “June” never achieved the stage fame of her father or brother Edwin. Even his third wife, Agnes Perry, gained greater fame as a theatrical.
Despite being on stage in Cincinnati the night of Lincoln’s assassination, June spent several weeks in jail in Washington’s Old Capitol Prison with suspected conspirators. Booth’s older brother confessed that he “wished John had been killed before the assassination, for the sake of the last name”. In addition to playing in small theatrical roles after the assassination, June managed Edwin’s theaters. In 1878, June and Agnes built a large hotel north of Boston that became one of the main resorts in the region. After retiring from the scene, June died there in 1883.
Asia booth clarke
The eighth child of Junius and Mary Ann, Asia was born in 1835 and considered the closest brother to John Wilkes. In 1859, she married comedian and actor John Sleeper Clarke, who had been Edwin’s classmate, and the couple had nine children. Clarke has directed Edwin’s theaters in New York City, Philadelphia and Boston.
After Lincoln’s murder, Clarke was jailed for possession of a pair of letters written by John Wilkes in Asia. While under house arrest herself, Asia gave birth to twins. Clarke’s imprisonment irreparably damaged the couple’s marriage, but Asia refused her husband’s divorce petition. The family fled to London in 1868 to escape scrutiny.
After the assassination, Asia attempted to restore the surname by writing biographies of her father and Edwin. Although she sought her family’s approval in writing these tales, she also secretly wrote of her memories of John Wilkes in a locked black leather journal, which she gave to English novelist Benjamin Farjeon on her bed in died in 1888. Not published before 1938, The Book Unlocked: John Wilkes Booth, Memory of a Sister is an attempt to humanize the killer as Asia shared memories of a young boy who loved butterflies and recited poetry. She revealed that John Wilkes was unsure of his acting career and recounted his growing anger towards Lincoln in “wild tirades, which were the very fever of his distracted brain and tortured heart.” Asia also remembers his brother taking him to heart when he received a prophecy from a fortune teller that he was simply “born under an unlucky star.”